Alan G. Artner, Tribune Art Critic – Dutch Tweaks: Netherlands Artists Discover There’s Nothing New To Say

Some of the better exhibitions at the Chicago Cultural Center in recent years have explored contemporary art of other countries, and though the current offering, “NetherArt: A Dutch Response to the Nineties,” is in that mold, it proves smaller in scope and lower in interest.

The show includes 13 artists, but several of them work as teams and, in any case, they all are part of the category optimistically called “emerging,” which means in their 30s and without significant international visibility.

Moreover, painting has always been central to Dutch art, and it continues to be in the exhibition, both as an influence and as a product. So while the show includes fiber art, sculpture and the temporary bringing together of images and objects known as installation, it is the most conservative medium, painting, that dominates.

Then, too, Dutch art has been unusually susceptible to influences from other countries, taking the lead only once in its history, in the 17th Century, with paintings by, among others, Frans Hals, Jan Vermeer and Rembrandt Harmensz Van Rijn.

This ensures that the attitudes of works on show will be virtually indistinguishable from those familiar in contemporary art created elsewhere, which is a bore to anyone other than viewers who relish the thought, generated and supported by the marketplace, that only one commanding artistic idea is possible at any one time.

The idea on display in “NetherArt” places the artist, exhausted, at the end of a long line of innovators, claiming he can do little more than quote forebears, mix the quotations with pop-culture detritus and present the results in a heavy sauce of irony.

The approach is already somewhat outre in the United States, having passed in the interest of an art of social involvement that runs as deep as the wearing of designer ribbons. Most of the Dutch artists on show, however, are yet to earn this cachet, though three who work under the name Seymour Likely are well aware of it, ridiculing political correctness in an installation, at once blunt and oddly unfocused, that includes pig sculptures, American flags and a giant rebus.

Jan Starken’s floor sculpture based on an embroidery design is a bit more subtle in its protest of the Gulf War, forming from 2,800 miniature plaster tanks-the estimated number of Iraqi tanks destroyed by Americans-a rich, pacific floral pattern. But from here on, the interest of the show shifts toward two-dimensional work even when the artist has integrated paintings and drawings into constructions or large-scale installations.

Cleverest of the pieces are by the duo Tempi & Wolf, who present floor plans of automobiles as if they were of churches and put stained-glass images of Christ and the Apostles on the faces of electric steam irons. Such drollery goes only so far, of course, exhausting itself rather quickly; but with Tempi & Wolf it goes further than with the remaining artists, and if not at all deep it still is moderately effective.

Also effective are the semi-abstract paintings by Ab van Hanegem, which on occasion borrow from Dutch still-life paintings but more typically establish a non-representational realm that gives a strange sense of familiarity yet remains disorienting, even disquieting. These pieces clearly stand out from all the rest on show.

The others-by Siert Dallinga, Edwin Janssen, Hewald Jongenelis, Hugo Kaagman, Rob Scholte and C.A. Wertheim-clomp as awkwardly into view as the wooden shoes that appear as a motif in several. All indulge in ironic game playing of the most tired sort, attempting to send up Dutch society and the nuclear family as well as world masterpieces of art history.

Scholte is perhaps the best-known of these artists, having appeared in all the major international forums, from Germany to Italy to Brazil. His kind of painting borders on commercial art and cartoons, and for some time he has fixated on Edvard Munch’s “The Scream,” producing variants that have little sharpness or point.

His “advertisement” that turns the central form of the painting into an inflatable doll is particularly lame, especially since real Munch dolls have appeared and are, wobbling in the third dimension like children’s toys, actually very funny.

Something similar might be said for Wertheim’s reworkings of images from Rembrandt and David as painted quilts.

Such interventions add nothing meaningful to the images and reduce them in extremely banal ways that do not bear much weight even in the realm of theory.

The artist seems a modest figure painter who has attempted to raise the stakes of her art but has succeeded only in adding determinedly lowbrow window dressing to gussy it up.

The pity of the exhibition is that such window dressing is very much the norm.

Chicago Tribune, August 01, 1993

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